The Lumen Coalition wants consumers to know: There’s a bulb for that.

The new ad hoc group of 40 business and advocacy organizations has formed to help consumers sort out what’s happening with light bulbs as new energy efficiency standards, voted by Congress in 2007, begin taking effect in January. What is happening, the coalition says, is a flood of new choices, and a lot of them don’t look like the compact fluorescent curlicue.

Rose DiNapoli, an interior designer in Arlington, VA, says she finds her clients want to save energy but are often confused by the new bulbs and worried they won’t fit fixtures or won’t give comfortable light. She added she is equally concerned since the right lighting is crucial to how the spaces she designs will look and feel to clients.

So DiNapoli said she was skeptical but welcomed the chance to work with the Lumen Coalition, using her own suburban Washington home as a test case, to find energy-saving alternative bulbs that would give light at least as good and hopefully better quality than the traditional bulbs she replaced.

The Same, But Different

The result was displayed to the media this week, with speakers saying that what some critics decry as a light bulb ban has actually produced an upsurge in light bulb innovation. Consumers are faced not with fewer choices but with far more, including some that look much like traditional light bulbs but use more efficient technologies, according the coalition.

Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at the Department of Energy, said the new bulbs can save families money, even though they cost more, because they use less power and last much longer. She said customers should check packages for DOE’s Energy Star ratings, since those bulbs are tested for manufacturing quality.

She and Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said the adjustment for consumers will be buying bulbs by lumens – a measure of brightness – instead of watts, which measures energy usage. For instance, a 60-watt traditional incandescent gives about 800 lumens, but a more efficient bulb can give the same light using just 13 watts.

To help consumers make that transition, and choose bulbs that will meet their needs, the Federal Trade Commission has designed a new label for light bulbs to show typical performance and savings. Lumens is the first number listed – watts is the last. The label will be required on all light bulb packages starting in January.

DiNapoli and Joseph Rey-Barreau, an architect and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Design, explained how halogen incandescent, compact fluorescent, and LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs – ranging from 25% to 80% more efficient than traditional bulbs – were chosen for use in kitchen, halls, dining room and living room of DiNapoli’s home. They said bulbs were used from a half-dozen different manufacturers to show the range available.

Breaking Energy visited a New York City penthouse where Home Depot was promoting the latest in lighting. See here for more details and photos.

On The Home Front

DiNapoli said she was happily surprised that new bulbs often look like the traditional incandescents, come in shapes to fit multiple types of fixtures, and give light that’s just as warm and pleasant.

Her home features some high ceilings, and the long bulb life is an added advantage for fixtures that are difficult to reach to change bulbs, she said.

Rey-Barreau said he was “stunned at the color quality” that’s now available. He said that, to his surprise, he couldn’t always tell what kind of bulb was installed in DiNapoli’s house just by light quality, as he could in the past. Early efficient bulbs, especially CFLs, were often criticized for their harshness, and they couldn’t be used with dimmers. He said most new bulbs are dimmable.

Bulb costs range from about $2 for halogens to more than $30 for LEDs, but they can last for years – a quarter century or more for long-lived LEDs, Rey-Barreau said. DiNapoli noted Americans have thought of light bulbs as disposable, but those life spans make them into an investment.